Does SaaS ERP Software Signal No More Upgrades?
With the cloud clearly becoming dominant in the world of software, common questions arise concerning upgrades. If a business or organization is on a SaaS (Software as a Service) application—like ERP—do they still need to deal with upgrades? The answer lies somewhere in between yes and no; this post explains why.
SaaS Software Defined
Before discussing upgrades, it’s important to be clear on the definition of SaaS software. One of the most popular forms of cloud computing, SaaS is a software distribution model whereby the service provider hosts applications for customers and makes them available via the internet.
SaaS software is multi-tenant, meaning every company is on the same version. The publisher rolls out updates (minor or major) after informing customers that the update is coming, providing release notes with new features and functions.
How Today’s Technology for ERP Software Impacts Upgrading
Perhaps to accommodate the necessity of applying updates for multiple customers at one time in a SaaS ERP Software environment, a significant change to the technology was required. That is, today’s ERP has become more of a platform rather than a traditional application. To accomplish this, Microsoft released technology to allow developers to customize the software “as if they were modifying base code”, but without actually doing so. They did this through the introduction of Events and Extensions. In fact, as is the case with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, the third-party add-ons of the past are now sold as apps, or Extensions. Microsoft has an online app store, AppSource, where users can access and download these apps for a plug and play experience.
This takes a significant amount of the complexity out of upgrading, both for SaaS and on premises ERP Software, because the core ERP code hasn’t been changed at the customer level.
So Why is Upgrading in a SaaS Environment Even an Issue?
Let’s look at the facts:
- Microsoft is releasing new functionality at a record pace. This is awesome of course, as it demonstrates their commitment to the continuous improvement of Business Central. And for every pro there is always a con—customers are now faced with monthly updates, two major and 10 minor releases every year.
- Part of what makes Business Central so powerful is that it can be customized, and while the platform/app structure discussed above has made upgrading easier, there is still custom code in the ERP software. Microsoft can and does run automated test scripts on all their core base code, but the users still need to test their customizations regarding the processes/functions they affect.
- If you have integrations with other applications or systems , you’ll want to ensure these integrations continue to work with each update.
Let’s face it – the age-old complaint that upgrades are disruptive because user testing is required is still real. The key is to minimize this disruption—and there are expert partners and plans to ensure just that which we will now expand upon.
As an aside, keep in mind that all this change is improving the upgrade process…and it is well worth it. You’re getting fixes and new functionality every month rather than waiting a year or more, which means your ERP is continuously improving, giving you access to advancements and efficiency improvements immediately.
How to Keep Upgrades Simple
Understanding that a system as complex and business critical as ERP cannot be ignored, how do you minimize upgrade disruptions in a SaaS environment?
You need an upgrade subscription plan through a partner that has specific expertise in managing your SaaS upgrade cycle. We encourage you to discuss this with your partner and sign up for a plan. The plan should have options to proactively stay in front of the releases. Test planning, identification of obsolete code, and code retooling should all be covered as part of the plan.
ArcherPoint offers several fixed-fee upgrade subscription plans, both for SaaS and on premises customers, offering a range of services. The right plan for you should be determined by your appetite for risk and downtime.
The ArcherPoint SaaS upgrade subscription plans offer both “proactive” (or what we call Managed Services) and “reactive” (or what we call Break-Fix) plans—the difference being that the proactive plans include staying in front of upgrades and updates before they are pushed out to you, the customer, eliminating any potential downtime.
Types of services provided in these plans are:
- Creation of a sandbox in advance of the upcoming major releases in preparation of user testing
- Ongoing retooling of obsolete code during and in between releases – which, as a side note, has become a critical consideration in the SaaS world. Microsoft is on a continuous path to obsolete fields/tables/etc. in order to enhance the capabilities of the system, and thus code may often need to be fully retooled in order to adhere to the new system structure.
- Notification monitoring relating to specific customers’ upgrade timeframes (i.e., releases vary somewhat based on Microsoft’s customer groupings)
- Reconfiguration and re-setup of ISV (add-on) extensions as needed
- Assistance with resolution of breaks in integrations
- New feature reviews and training on new functionality
- Running automated test scripts
What Else Can You Do to Minimize Upgrade Disruption?
Microsoft understands the nuances of staying current. They realize you are not in the business of ERP Software, and that you need to stay focused on your own business.
To provide further assistance in creating easy upgrades, Microsoft has been innovative with their Automated Test Script coding enhancements. Developers can create automated test scripts while they are developing in your ERP system. And a good partner can help you with creating automated test scripts for your legacy code. You need to request this of your partner. Once you make the investment, it will pay off long into the future. This is really the only way to ensure upgrade disruption is gone forever. Can you imagine, no more user testing???
The Bottom Line: With SaaS ERP, Upgrades Will Not End—But They Don’t Have to Be All-Consuming
If you are on a SaaS solution or thinking of moving to one, it’s important that you NOT assume you won’t have to think about upgrades; however, with the right understanding and support, the upgrade process will be much better and will yield tremendous benefits.
If you’d like to discuss an upgrade subscription plan for Business Central—or you’re looking to upgrade from NAV to Business Central or Business Central on premises to SaaS, contact the upgrade experts at ArcherPoint or get your free upgrade quote.